Background: Much epidemiological evidence suggests that hydrocarbon exposure may induce glomerulonephritis and worsen its course in many patients. The mechanisms are unknown, however, no specific microscopic pattern has been identified, and it has also been argued that hydrocarbon exposure causes tubular damage mainly. Studying experimental animals may best answer these questions, and as no systematic review of glomerulonephritis produced experimentally by hydrocarbon exposure has been performed previously, I found it relevant to search for and analyse such studies.
Methods: Animal experiments having mimicked human glomerulonephritis by hydrocarbon exposure were sought on Medline and Toxnet
Results: Twenty-six experiments using thirteen different hydrocarbons were identified. Several human subtypes were observed including IgA nephritis, mesangial, proliferative and extracapillary glomerulonephritis, focal and focal-segmental sclerosis, minimal change nephropathy, anti-GBM and anti-TBM nephritis, and glomerulonephritis associated with peiarteritis nodosa. Glomerular proteinuria was seen in 10/12 experiments that included urine analyses, and renal failure in 5/8 experiments that included measurements of glomerular function. All experiments resulted in various degrees of tubular damage as well. In most studies, where the animals were examined at different times during or after the exposure, the renal microscopic and functional changes were seen immediately, whereas deposits of complement and immunoglobulins appeared late in the course, if at all.
Conclusion: These experiments are in accord with epidemiological evidence that hydrocarbon exposure may cause glomerulonephritis and worsen renal function. Probable mechanisms include an induction of autologous antibodies and a disturbance of normal immunological functions. Also, tubular damage may increase postglomerular resistance, resulting in a glomerular deposition of macromolecules. In most models a causal role of glomerular immune complex formation was unlikely, but may rather have been a secondary phenomenon. As most glomerulonephritis subgroups were seen and as some of the hydrocarbons produced more than one subgroup, the microscopic findings in a patient cannot be used as a clue to the causation of his disease. By the same reason, the lack of a specific histological pattern in patients with glomerulonephritis assumed to have been caused by hydrocarbon exposure is not contradictive.